This is a reprint of an article I originally published in 2015

Now that the UK government has approved the development of a project that would create the world’s largest offshore wind farm, it’s not unreasonable to expect that it should get some attention. And attention it has, with articles this morning in the FT, Guardian, Independent, and ThinkProgress – mainly repeating the same facts, which are that:

  • The project would create somewhere between 900 – 4,750 jobs and cost around £6-8bn.
  • 400 turbines would provide 2.4GW of power, powering around 2.5% of UK consumption (or 2 million homes).
  • The major players are predominantly foreign – Statoil and Statkraft from Norway, RWE from Germany, and only SSE from Scotland.
The location of Dogger Bank (No. 3)
The location of Dogger Bank (No. 3)

What’s important to add (and was noted by some of the articles) is that the project would be very much dependent on oil prices and subsidies, that the investment consortium that would finance the project hasn’t made a choice yet, and that even if construction began today it could still take several years until completion.

The reason that so much is going into Dogger Bank is not just because of the UK’s ongoing national (and EU) commitments to a less carbon intensive economy, but because Dogger Bank is actually very well suited to offshore wind. Being its own landmass in pleistocene times, the bank is actually a whole lot shallower than the rest of the North Sea – being anywhere between 15 to 36 metres (or 49 to 118 feet) deep, which is about 20 metres or 60 feet shallower than neighbouring waters. What this means is that the costs of construction (which are the biggest expense for offshore, especially when compared with onshore) are considerably lower.

When talking about nuclear, I often bring up Olkiluoto – the Finnish nuclear power plant that has had astronomically higher costs, delays that postponed the completion of the project until 2018 (some 13 years in the making), and just general problems associated with the political decision of choosing a certain energy mix for non-economic decisions.

Similarly, the UK already has a good example of a delayed and overly costly offshore wind project – the London Array. The Guardian had this to say on the palaver:

The UK’s last biggest offshore wind site, the London Array, ran into difficulties soon after gaining the government’s green light in a long drawn-out process from 2005 to 2007. Costs spiralled, investors withdrew backing and the future of the project for long periods hung in the balance. However, the windfarm, with 175 turbines, was inaugurated in 2013.

The news didn’t mention other concerns for the project, namely potential environmental setbacks such as migratory birds, and what the current network connections are to a bank in the middle of the North Sea some 100 kilometres (or 62 miles) from the East coast of England.

Source: http://www.ewea.org/fileadmin/swf/factsheet/3_thepowergrid.pdf
Source: http://www.ewea.org/fileadmin/swf/factsheet/3_thepowergrid.pdf

So what needs to happen for Dogger Bank offshore wind to be successful? Well, the project needs to be made economical – the consortium needs to consider the amount of subsidies (see also), the price of oil and gas, and lastly the costs of construction and infrastructure (e.g. connecting to the European power network).

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